Two roads diverged in a wood. And we — we took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference*, because the cab driver struggled to find the right address and so we started our first session about 10 minutes late.
We soon made up the time.
The 2019 Clear Review off-site team day, starring all 19 employees and senior managers, was held in a secret underground bunker carefully disguised as a pleasant country house just outside Bath. We breathed fresh, wholesome air. We congregated on the south-facing terrace between sessions to take in the gently rolling greenery. We scuttled back inside when it started to rain.
Full disclosure here: I am a relatively new member of Clear Review. This was my second day with the business. I’m sure there are people who find it easy to bond and share ideas with a couple of dozen strangers. I am not usually one of them. And yet the enthusiasm and goodwill was infectious. Even I found myself sharing and discussing.
It became very clear, very quickly, that Clear Review’s growth — and the almost disturbingly large number of endorsements from our clients — was rooted in these smart people building and refining a product with real insights into human nature. It’s not just a nice piece of software that a few entrepreneurs cooked up: this thing is rooted in years of experience and years of thinking about how people behave. It works, and it works because the people building it know their stuff through and through.
We talked about the reasons why we’d been successful over the last two years. We looked at the refinements and updates we wanted to bring to the Clear Review product. We discussed how we would spend our next round of investment, the growth we were aiming for and what success would look like. At every stage — and I really can’t overstate this — managers and employees talked to each other. People explained why they were doing what they were doing, and why that was important. There was a sense of participation. People have a real emotional stake in this.
And you can see it happening. There’s an attitude here that seems to say: we’re in a high-growth start-up and we’ve made this thing that lets people engage with each other, give proper feedback, communicate more effectively and more transparently — and so we have to work like that, because it would be hypocritical to do otherwise. As someone that hasn’t experienced that sort of environment before… it does work. It works because everyone is committed to doing it.
We had a session on mental health and wellbeing from head of Customer Success Sean Ruane, who spoke movingly about his own struggles and how he’s worked on overcoming them. I was reminded of my first job, at the advertising agency CDP, where every visit to the bathroom was accompanied by the sound of someone sobbing in a cubicle and where emotional support took the form of a terse “pull yourself together”. Times have changed.
We also had a values workshop run by the luminously charismatic Natasha Wallace, who’s Clear Review’s new head of wellbeing and performance. As someone who normally runs from the room screaming when the words “company culture” are mentioned, I had steeled myself for Post-its and word association, but what we got was an engrossing session based around Jeremy Dean’s Emotional Culture deck. The findings form the beginning of a cultural manifesto, which will be crucial this year as we look to double in size. Nearly all of you reading this will know a story about — or have experienced first hand — a company that lost its personality as it grew. Clear Review is taking this incredibly seriously. So we’re creating something we can set down, get everyone to sign, then make sure we live by as we bring new people on board and develop as a team.
And then we all made dinner together and some of the people got slightly drunk. Also, in its way, a values workshop.
*With apologies to Robert Frost.
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